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Cale Makar: UMass hockey’s crown jewel -

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Ames: If first four games are any indicator, this UMass hockey season could differ for the better -

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Josh Couturier looks to find where he fits within UMass lineup -

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The straw man fallacy: missing the point on Indigenous Peoples Day -

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October 19, 2017

Unique McLean will have the opportunity to play a large role for UMass basketball

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

In one of the first basketball games of the 2016 season, chants for Unique McLean to enter the game echoed down from an upper section of the Mullins Center. McLean wouldn’t enter that game, nor any game for the Massachusetts basketball team that season, as he redshirted the entire year.

Nearly a year later, McLean is ready to take the Mullins Center court. So ready, in fact, that he has a countdown app on his phone, counting down the days until he and the rest of the Minutemen take on UMass Lowell Nov. 10 to open up 2017-18.

Having sat out last year makes his debut next month that much more special.

“I’m excited to play now,” McLean said. “I got the countdown app on my phone, and I’m ready to play. I’m excited, I’m ready to step on the court and show everybody what I can do.”

Having sat out the entire season, McLean still was able to practice with the team and observe from the sideline. It was the first time in McLean’s career that he ever had to miss a substantial amount of time, but he found value in the experience.

“It was kind of hard sitting on the sideline and just watching but it’s also a good thing learning from the older guys, watching the games, seeing their mistakes and trying not to repeat those,” McLean said. “So it was a good thing and a bad thing at the same time because I want to get on the court. But overall, I think it’s going to be a good situation.”

McLean’s impact with the team will be almost immediate given how little depth the Minutemen have in the backcourt.

“I think he is going to get an unbelievable opportunity, all these guys are,” head coach Matt McCall said. “Him, Carl Pierre, Ray Miller, guys who haven’t played in a college game or in an enormous amount of a college game, those guys are all going to get an opportunity. And it’s really about what they do with that opportunity here going forward.”

After growing up in Brooklyn, McLean played a prep year at the MacDuffie School in Granby, Massachusetts, where he was a three-star recruit, according to ESPN. McCall believes his athleticism is a major key to his success.

“One of the things that stands out the most is just his athleticism,” McCall said. “We’ve really been trying to harp to him just about impacting the game on the defensive end of the floor. With his length, with his athleticism, he should always be in the right spot defensively. He should always be in right spot and put his focus on that. He’ll score as a byproduct of being in the right spot.”

Possible starting point guard Luwane Pipkins went through a similar situation, having to redshirt his freshman year.

“Sitting out is just a growing year to be honest,” Pipkins said. “Get stronger, get faster, get better as a player and as a person. And then when you get back, you just got to take all that work you’ve done in the postseason and just put it all into the season.”

Pipkins agreed that finally getting a chance to play was that much more special.

“To be honest, yeah, because you’re really excited to play college basketball,” he said. “It’s your first year playing college basketball. You want everyone to see you, you want your family to see you. So I mean, it’s pretty special for some people who sit out.”

As it stands now, still a month away from the start of the season, McCall will have to manage his backcourt with Pipkins, the freshman Pierre, McLean, senior C.J. Anderson and walk-on Rayshawn Miller. The career-ending heart condition diagnosis that Jaylen Brantley received yesterday has further limited McCall’s options at guard, especially in terms of experience.

Philip Sanzo can be reached at psanzo@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.

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